Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

November 24, 2010

More developments in the Canadian court case

Now that the case testing Canada's polygamy law is underway, it's getting lots of news coverage; here's an up-to-the-minute Google News list. Modern, egalitarian polyamory is supposedly a side issue in the case — "collateral damage." But the people who've become the public faces of the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association (CPAA) — Zoe Duff and her two guys — are still getting media attention after seizing the initiative in the days just before the trial opened.

This appeared yesterday on the website of CBC News (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation):

B.C. woman with 2 partners decries polygamy law

A Vancouver Island woman with two male common-law partners says Canada's polygamy laws need to be struck down by the B.C. Supreme Court because they don't permit her to live her chosen lifestyle.

Zoe Duff, a director of the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, lives in Esquimalt, west of Victoria, with her two male partners. Duff says she and the two men are polyamorists, a term that literally means "many loves."

But it wasn't until she looked at the laws that criminalize polygamy that Duff realized their relationship was illegal, she said.

"Holy cow — this affects me," said Duff, who came to Vancouver this week to watch the B.C. Supreme Court hearing at which Canada's polygamy ban is being tested.

...Duff says the situation in Bountiful has little relevance to her and the two men who share her bed, and she would like the court to strike down the laws so that people like her don't have to live in the shadows.

"I'm living common-law with two partners, and this law very much overshadows my life and how I feel, how I relate to other people in the community and causes a great need for secrecy that's just not part of a lifestyle that I want," Duff said.

...Thirty-six witnesses, including some women in [FLDS Mormon] polygamous relationships, are scheduled to testify....

Read the whole article (Nov. 23, 2010) and join in the comments.

On CBC's radio show The Current, experts discuss the law regarding both polygamy and polyamory.

This appeared today in the Wall Street Journal's online Law Blog:

One Woman. Two Men. Many Loves. But Is it Legal in Canada?

By Dionne Searcey

Oh Canada. There you go again breaking societal taboos. First it was these guys and their affinity for beer, now you give us a Vancouver Island woman with two male common-law partners who is challenging the nation’s polygamy laws.

The woman, Zoe Duff, says Canada’s polygamy laws, which date from the 19th Century, need to be struck down because they don’t permit her to live her chosen lifestyle, according to this report on the CBC’s website.

Duff lives with two men and considers the relationship “polyamorist,” which means “many loves,” CBC reports.

She didn’t realize her relationship was illegal.

...The legal team for B.C.’s attorney general said Tuesday that the law is intended to crack down on only one kind of polygamy — polygyny, which involves one husband with multiple wives, as opposed to polyandry, which is one woman with multiple husbands.

The distinction remains a key point in the legal debate at the hearing, CBC says....

Read the whole article (Nov. 24, 2010).

Today the Canadian Press news service reported more about this awkward and perhaps unconstitutional gender distinction:

Ottawa, B.C. clash over whether women can have multiple husbands

By James Keller

VANCOUVER — The British Columbia and federal governments disagreed Tuesday on the exact definition of polygamy, with the province suggesting the law against multiple marriage doesn’t apply to women with more than one husband and Ottawa insisting that it does.

The two levels of government each brushed aside the discrepancy, suggesting it makes little difference in assessing whether the law violates the religious freedoms of the polygamous community in Bountiful, B.C.

But the inconsistency demonstrates the delicate task before the court as it spends the next two months considering whether it’s constitutional to prohibit polygamy....

Craig Jones, the lawyer for the B.C. government, argued the law was only ever meant to target men with multiple wives, the most common form of polygamy known as polygany [sic].

All of the problems associated with polygamy — including child brides and the discrimination of women — are the direct result of allowing men to marry multiple women, said Jones.

Jones said instances of women with multiple husbands, known as polyandry, are incredibly rare. And he said neither polyandry nor same-sex, multi-partner relationships bring about the same harms to the people involved and to society as a whole as polygany.

"It is arguable that Parliament could not criminalize polyandry and same-sex, multi-partner conjugality even if it wished to," said Jones.

"Polyandry does carry some risk of harms that might be associated with it, but evidence for these is speculative and weak. . . . The fact is that the overwhelming majority of polygamy in practice is traditional, usually religious, patriarchal polygany."

He added that when Parliament brought in the laws in 1890, the government of the day was clearly concerned about multiple wives in some cultures — namely Mormons, Muslims and First Nations.

Jones made the point as he rejected a criticism made by some opponents of the law: that the crime of polygamy sweeps in relationships that aren’t harmful.

The federal government’s lawyer agreed the law was primarily intended to target men with multiple wives, as in Bountiful, but she rejected the suggestion the law only covers that scenario.

Read the whole article (Nov. 24, 2010).

CPAA has decided to post all court filings from all sides of the case online. It seems to be the only party committed to doing this.

If you're following the case, there may be day-by-day court reporting from a group on the other side, Stop Polygamy in Canada — which like CPAA is an intervener and will be giving testimony.

Update, Nov. 25: Today looks like a big day! Member Carole Chanteuse writes, "At some point in the day, we expect that our legal counsel, Mr. John Ince, will be presenting Opening Arguments on behalf of the CPAA. Come join us in court!"

Ince describes some key points in The Georgia Straight, the Vancouver area's alternative paper ("Canada's largest urban weekly") out today:

Polyamory threatened by B.C. polygamy case

By Shadi Elien

The attorneys general of Canada and B.C., Rob Nicholson and Michael de Jong, want to “criminalize loving families”, according to Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association director John Ince.

Ince was referring to government statements filed as part of a B.C. Supreme Court case examining whether a ban on polygamy violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“This is staggering to us not only legally, but more so politically,” he told the Straight by phone. “We think it’s completely untenable — the charter was created to protect precisely that sort of intrusion into the domestic sphere.”

The B.C. attorney general’s opening statement declares that Section 293 of the Criminal Code — which bans polygamy and threatens offenders with five years in prison—should also apply to cohabiting polyamorous families. According to a statement filed by B.C. government lawyer Craig Jones, the problem with leaving polyamory out of the Criminal Code is that “the distinction [between polygamy and polyamory] is not capable of definition for identification and enforcement purposes”.

Ince asserts that it’s ridiculous to think the government can’t distinguish between a patriarchal sect in which women have no rights and modern polyamory.

“Simply ask them one question: ‘do women have the right to marry more than one man?’ ” he said. “And if the answer is no, then bang, it couldn’t be any simpler.”

Federal and provincial lawyers have advanced the position that multiple conjugal relationships are harmful to the state, and in particular to women and children.

But Ince pointed out that the same concerns were once expressed about same-sex and interracial marriages. He called the governments’ arguments in this case a “huge step backwards”.

Read the original (Nov. 25, 2010).

P. S.: The CPAA needs donations.




Anonymous Alissa said...

It just struck me how exciting it is that the word "polyamory" will now be included in a major legal decision. No one in the court is arguing that polyamory isn't a real practice. Now when poly folks come out and family and friends ask "what is that" not only can we direct them to Wikipedia and our own resources but likely a court decision that will say something to the effect of "polyamory differs from tradition polygamy in that..." (hopefully!). Sweet!

November 25, 2010 10:28 AM  
Blogger Eric Cote said...

@Alissa: It would be exciting, if it happens the way you describe.

But if the court sides with the attorneys general, then "polyamory is just another form of polygamy, and should be banned".

Let's hope things go the right way.

November 25, 2010 5:48 PM  
Anonymous Alissa said...

My biggest hope is that decriminalizing polygamy will do to marriage what same-sex marriage did not: get the government out of the marriage business all together. Then (consenting adult) people can create whatever contracts best suit their lives.

November 26, 2010 12:55 AM  

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